After a hard year on the track followed by five weeks at Wentworth running the shop it was finally time for a break. I generally finish the year in WA and head for the goldfields however, this year, Tibooburra in north western NSW was the chosen spot to relax well away from the show circuit and also a place where gold has been found. The 636K trip which includes 250 K of dirt is a far less stressing drive than the equivalent on the east coast as prior to Broken Hill there is one very small road house called Coombah, then after, the Packsaddle roadhouse followed by Milparinka which is bypassed, then the point of destination, Tibooburra. This area is known as Corner Country with Cameron Corner situated 140 K's to the north west or by crow less than 100K's. Generally visitors pass through this area during winter heading further out to Innamincka or over to Lake Eyre and on up to Birdsville. They push their vehicles to the limit going way to fast causing unnecessary damage to dirt roads and rarely stopping to see what really exists in this pristine environment. Often people pass comments such as, there's nothing out here, and the country is so boring just red dirt and rocks, which is sad because if they stopped for a while they would find that the area is in fact full of large and small animal life and wonderful desert plants.
Not all travellers are like this and thankfully more and more are visiting the back country to enjoy it for what it is and what it has to offer. This year the desert has sprung to life having received in the last twelve months alone four times the yearly average rainfall. The red stony aspect which one normally sees out here has been transformed to a scene of green rolling hills and plains covered in dense natural herbage. After decades of drought and violent wind storms it's hard to believe that there would be any seeds left to germinate, quite the opposite in fact, there are now plants and grasses growing on some of the toughest shale country that the elder locals can't identify.
Tibooburra,like most other isolate towns in Australia has long term residents that were born and bred in the area as well as non core locals, a special breed of people who are drawn to such places and collectively they give the town its real charm and character . Without them of course, you only have a place name on a map. The mailman for instance, a local who previously had spent seventeen years working on the dog fence had plenty of yarns to spin especially about the doggers that worked north and south of the fence. Young Jake, a contract musterer, already a character as such a young age knows many stations in the corner country, in southern QLD and South Australia. Adrian, from Milparinka, forty K's south of Tibooburra is a handy man, a roo shooter and prospector and with his mate Mick are the towns only residents since the pub closed down. He reckons it will open again next year, I hope so, I really want to have a beer there next time I visit. Adrian supplies roo skins to my partner Ray Kovac in Sydney for making hand bags and wallets. Then there is Wattie, he works for the RTA and helps keep thousands of kilometres of dirt road graded and in good shape. The last twelve months being so wet gave the roads teams more than enough work especially clearing the endless creek crossings between Warri gate on the QLD border, down through Tibooburra and on to Broken Hill. There are two pubs in Tibooburra and in a small town of eighty people it's wise to have a drink at both but most evenings found me at the Family Hotel owned by the Tooles.
Not only does the licensees run the hotel but also assume responsibility advising travellers as to which roads are open and which areas are safe to visit given how well they are equipped. While I was there a two German couples sat out side the pub with a poorly detailed map planning a trip west through Cameron Corner, Innamincka, Marree, Ayers Rock, the Gun Barrel highway and on to Perth. They took some convincing that January was not the time to attempt such a trip and if they went ahead they could find themselves in serious trouble and would quite likely perish.
A creek crossing just out of Tibooburra.
The local school teacher has eleven pupils some of which are on Distance Education, some School of the Air and some on traditional face to face teaching. All the kids I met were the same as most kids from the bush, well mannered, interesting to talk to and polite and as normal 5 to 15 year olds going on 40. Quite a large number of families visit the pubs on a Saturday night for a meal and to confirm the latest gossip. One evening at the Family Hotel due after I'd left town was a beach party. They have several loads of sand delivered then set up a water slide, volley ball net and round up gear for sand castle building, all for a bit of fun a long way from the beach.
The resident roo shooters have had a tough time over the previous twelve months due to unseasonably wet conditions which hasn't allowed them to get out to the stations. Two fellows, Don and Kim, who made me feel particularly welcome and classified as non core locals but who have collectively clocked up over twenty five years in the corner country are the type of characters that help make Tibooburra such a wonderful place to visit. Their experience in the back country, both here and many other isolated areas of Australia made evening conversations over a cool drink at the Family Hotel a real pleasure and many topics were thrashed about and given a good airing. The English cook, employed by the pub was a pretty quiet sort of bloke but one who suited such an area. Over the years his previous employment at places including Innamincka and Marree meant that isolation was seen as a positive from his point of view. In fact I think he'd find it a fairly lonely existence cooking for pubs down in the city. Now, the reason for going to Tibooburra in the first place was the chance of finding gold. Well, I put in the hard yards and probably dug several hundred targets most of which turned out to be projectiles, casings or small pieces of wire or boot tacks . Only two small pieces of gold came to life unfortunately however, next year I'm hoping that with the help of Adrian and Mick from Milparinka I'll be allowed to visit sites that yield pocket fulls. So with that my friends I conclude other than to offer the following advise. Make sure Tibooburra is on the 'places to visit' list so you too can enjoy the wonderful pleasures that the local characters and the corner country have on offer. Until next time. Steve and Sass